Canadian support and legalization

In Blog // on October 27th, 2012 // by // No comment

There seems to be a lot of smoke surrounding the topic of marijuana and the law.  Although there are several medicinal dispensaries, and even a vapour lounge/cafe in Vancouver, one often wonders about how much freedom there is to inhale, and what kind of serious trouble one might find themselves in if caught.

In July 2001, Health Canada, a sector of the Canadian government, established regulations that would allow people to obtain marijuana for medical purposes.  This doesn’t mean that cannabis became a legal substance, instead, under controlled circumstances, and for certain people, marijuana was deemed all right.

Although highly sensitive, and potentially frustrating (obtaining the MMAR license can take many weeks), this program is a step in the right direction towards safe access and use of medicinal marijuana for those in need.

There are three components to the MMAR program: authorizations to possess dried marijuana; licences to produce marijuana (which include Personal-Use Production Licences and Designated Person Production Licences) and access to a supply of seeds.

In order to obtain the MMAR licence, a patient must meet criteria in at least one of either two categories:

The first category (or B1) describes patients who are suffering from conditions most thought of as terminal.  Medical marijuana is described as compassionate care for those with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS (and all the symptoms, such as anorexia and weight loss and nausea), severe arthritis and epilepsy.

The second category (or B2) of patients suffer from debilitating symptoms that do not fall under those listed in B1.  Such conditions may include anxiety and insomnia, crippling digestive issues and chronic pain.

There are hoops – lots of paperwork, doctor diagnostics and fees, recommendations, wait times, and proof of pain – but by just existing, the MMAR program forces the Canadian government to declare that marijuana is a legitimate resource for the battle against illness.

By admitting patients to the program, it seemed official that cannabis is a compassionate way to treat those in need – a safe, virtually side effect-free alternative to other pharmaceuticals.

However –

No Notice of Compliance has been issued for marijuana for medical purposes.

“A Notice of Compliance is a letter of approval from the Therapeutic Products Directorate of Health Canada indicating that a drug has been assessed and has complied with the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations regarding safety, efficacy and quality...All drugs sold in Canada must have a Notice of Compliance.”

If all drugs sold must have a Notice of Compliance, and Health Canada has not issued such a notice, how is the product being dispensed?

Well, some MMAR holders are growing their own plants (an intensive process) and some are using Designated Person Production, or designated growers (DG).  DG’s are licenced growers (that have been given right through Health Canada) to produce medicinal marijuana for approved patients.  The medicine they grow is then donated to the patients, and there should be no sale.

Unfortunately, there are limited DG’s, and only so many patients have the opportunity to be hooked up with one – and let’s face it – not everyone has a green thumb.  Many in need are left without access to cannabis treatment.

In 2007, in the Ontario Court of Justice, a case was launched against the prohibition of marijuana (stated in the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act) arguing that it was unconstitutional for those in need of medicinal marijuana.  It was OK for licenced people to possess cannabis, but they depended on the government to supply their medicine, and there was no system of enforcing the government to uphold their responsibilities in dispensing.  The case said that without obligation to provide the product, the policy was constitutionally unacceptable – access to marijuana for the ill was being treated as a courtesy not a necessity.

If the government wanted to control the supply of marijuana, it had to impose an obligation upon itself to supply marijuana to eligible persons.

It’s taking time, but here is a solution: dispensaries are becoming vital resources in our Canadian health care system.

Here’s how they work:

When a DG grows and harvests a crop for their designated patients (and they are only allowed a handful) there are, at times, overages.  Because of the non-sale of medicinal marijuana, DG’s donate their overstock to medicinal marijuana dispensaries, such as Westcoast Medicann Society, where the product can be passed on to patients.

Yes, there is a fee for the accessibility and quality of the product, but Westcoast Medicann Society works as a not-for-profit society.  The money spent by eligible patients (who do not have a DG or the ability to grow their own) goes back to the grower, or directly into the upkeep of the clinic and its staff, or into charitable organizations, or research and development programs.

Eligible patients that acquire a membership with Westcoast Medicann must either have their federal licence or a written prescription from their doctor.  Not all physicians are up to speed on the benefits of medicinal cannabis, but those who do recognize the healing qualities of the plant and are more than willing to help patients obtain prescriptions.

When marijuana is used medicinally, and those using have licence to do so, there should be no legal action taken against them.  Because of the 2007 case, prohibition against possession of cannabis in the Controlled Drug and Substances Act has become invalid and of no force or effect.

But where does that leave cannabis use, for the general public, in the eyes of the law?

Ontario is taking steps to legalize marijuana production in the province – and is hoping the decision will spread across Canada.  If legalization cannot be granted,  the pursuit of decriminalization is, right now, a huge topic of debate. The big circle around these inquests are about how the marijuana will be used, leaving some arms up in the air.

By lifting criminal penalties associated with smoking pot, although potentially subjecting the action to regulation of some form, decriminalization could give marijuana the same treatment as alcohol; i.e., permits, rules and regulations, taxes, designated areas and fines for abuse.

Patients with debilitating illnesses are being given permission by the provincial and federal governments to use cannabis in the improvement of the quality of their life.  Thank goodness that this is becoming more and more acceptable because hope for recovery, reduction of stress and pain, with an increase of good sleep and healthy appetites are enormous benefits of medicinal marijuana.

And so I ask: doesn’t everyone deserve to have this quality of life?

There are also issues around gang and violent activity associated with marijuana.  If cannabis was decriminalized, the hope would be to limit and/or completely eliminate the criminal use, trade and commerce in question now.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson once said, “Widespread access to marijuana for our youth, grow-ops that provide funds for organized crime, and significant costs to taxpayers for enforcement are all compelling reasons to re-examine our failed approach to prohibition.

Money, of course is a great catalyst for politicians to (finally) take a stand.  Eight mayors signed a letter to other provincial politicians stating, “It is time to tax and strictly regulate marijuana under a public health framework; regulating marijuana would…raise government tax revenue and eliminate the huge profits from the marijuana industry that flow directly to organized crime.

Most Canadians, based on a poll, are in favour of changing the laws on use of cannabis.  For reasons based on health, reduction of crime or increase of revenue, there are many reasons for people from all walks to use, support and/or legalize medicinal marijuana.

Look forward to next week’s article on the broad range of medical reasons for cannabis and inspiring stories of those who have.

Bibliography:

(2001 – 2012). Who is Eligible? Medical Marijuana.ca (online). http://medicalmarijuana.ca/for-patients/who-is-eligible (retrieved September 25, 2012)

(June 13, 2005). Frequently Asked Questions – Medical Use of Marihuana. Health Canada (online). www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/marihuana/about-apropos/faq-eng.php.

Ian Vandaelle. “Majority of Canadians support legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, new poll suggests”. National Post (online) January 17, 2012. http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/01/17/majority-of-canadians-support-legalizing-or-decriminalizing-marijuana-new-poll-suggests/

R. v. Parker, 2000 CanLII 5762 (ON CA), http://canlii.ca/t/1fb95 (retrieved September 28, 2012)

Yolande Cole. “Eight B.C. mayors sign letter in support of marijuana legalization”. The Georgia Straight/Straight.com (online) April 26, 2012. http://www.straight.com/article-672091/vancouver/eight-bc-mayors-sign-letter-support-marijuana-legalization

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